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Alexander TCHEREPNIN (1899-1977)
Complete Piano Music - vol. 3
8 pieces, Op.88 [13:51]
Feuilles libres, Op.10* [7:32]
4 Prèludes nostalgiques, Op.23 [6:07]
4 Prèludes, Op.24* [4:58]
Intermezzo, Op.33a* [1:59]
Tanz, Op.posth.* [1:32]
7 Etudes, Op.56 [11:12]
Expressions, Op.81 [11:53]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland, 13 March, 2011.
* World Première Recordings
GRAND PIANO GP635 [59:04]

Just over a year after I reviewed the first of the projected eight disc cycle of the solo piano music of Alexander Tcherepnin we are up to number three (see reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2). The excitement and wonder continue. What continues to amaze, delight and fascinate is the breadth of Tcherepnin’s invention. Couple this with the fact that, based on what I have heard, there is never a dull moment in anything he wrote nor any feeling that his material is either wasted or undeveloped. This composer prayed to an icon as a young boy to be a composer like his father. His father was initially against the idea believing it would be a hard and difficult road to embark on though he clearly never thought the same about himself. By his late teens he had already composed hundreds of pieces. His8 pieces, which he wrote during his time in Chicago in the mid-1950s, are proof of the extent to which he was a master of the miniature though that could be said of the entire disc since no single piece lasts as long as three minutes. In many ways he reminds me of his compatriot Nicolai Medtner though Tcherepnin’s music has a more spiky edge when it is not equally dreamy.
The accompanying booklet notes explain that Philip Ramey the writer of biographical notes to be found on (a website well worth exploring by anyone interested in discovering more about this composer) says that at the time they were written he was making a conscious effort to synthesize all the previous elements of his style. That is something I as a mere listener rather than a musicologist find difficult to determine but I do find his music has an overall style that this cycle is making increasingly clear. I would find his music easy to identify now whichever period of his life it came from. I say that because the following Feuilles libres were written 35 years earlier in 1920 during the time he spent in the Georgian capital Tbilisi where the family had moved to escape the events surrounding the revolution in Petrograd. They were obliged to move again, eventually to Paris. In fact the ensuing fourteen pieces were written in the 1920s and all show a fully formed musician with an incredible flair for invention. It is always exciting to me to hear world première recordings. So far in this series there have been plenty and indeed Feuilles libres is one such and there are three more on this disc.

One of Tcherepnin’s particular strengths, and there are many, is the ability to portray sadness, nostalgia and regret. This is done in such richly beautiful ways as three of these four pieces conclusively show with only the third showing an excited and agitated side. The sad side continues in the 4 Prèludes nostalgiques. This group begins with a deliciously doleful piece which combines a brooding left hand with a yearning melody from the right hand in the upper register. The third of these shows another of his abilities, which is to be able to produce a wild and fiery mood out of nothing. The last is a wonderfully melancholy piece with a tune crying out for further development. His Quatre Préludes, his next composed set continue the reflective mood though rather more subdued but all with his characteristically original approach. The booklet notes point out that his Intermezzo could easily fit into Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet score for it has the same spikily rhythmic edge that Prokofiev employed. It was interesting to read that Tcherepnin took it from a larger work for flute, violin and chamber ensemble thus giving it another life altogether, but then he always wrote so exceedingly brilliantly for piano.
His Tanz, another world première recording, which was published after his death, is another revision of a longer work for piano quintet written the previous year (1927). It is further proof of his facility with invention since it contains a wealth of material within its minute and a half.
The first of his 7 Etudes from 1938 show the influence he drew from a visit to the Far East on concert tours, during which he met his second wife Lee Hsien Ming. The second and third reminded me very much of Stravinsky’s Petrushka with a jaunty air about each. The fourth reveals a fondness Tcherepnin had for exploiting the piano’s very highest notes in trills making for tiny bell-like sounds. The remaining ones are all interesting for their melodic invention with the last one very lovely indeed with long flowing lines conjuring a magical conclusion to this set.
The ten pieces that constitute his Expressions and which date from 1951 are utterly fascinating and the booklet note writers have pointed out the similarity with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition though in miniature by comparison. The composer wrote that his intention was to allow the pianist sufficient leeway to lend their own interpretation to the content of the pieces. Each of the ten pieces has a title and Entrance again brought Stravinsky to mind with its confidently strutting air. The booklet gives a good description of each piece so I will not try simply to find other words to do so but suffice to say that the whole set is highly effective. For a fourth time in At the Fair with its peasant dance-like sounds Stravinsky seemed to watching over Tcherepnin’s shoulder; then again it could just be a ‘Russian thing’. At Dawn also uses the trilling of the highest notes, this time to evoke chattering birds most convincingly. The Exit brings us back to earth and the set to its end.
Grand Piano, a Naxos label, is planning to release the remaining five discs in the series by the middle of 2014. They can’t do so quick enough as far as I’m concerned. Tcherepnin is so beguiling that listening to his music can become truly addictive and having to wait any length of time between ‘fixes’ is hard to do.
This disc has been as thoroughly rewarding as the first two and as before Giorgio Koukl establishes himself as the perfect vehicle through which this superb composer finds a voice that shows his brilliance to the greatest effect.
Steve Arloff